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Thursday, September 26, 2019, 01:57
Let's discover the truth and restart the road of recovery
By Paul Yip
Thursday, September 26, 2019, 01:57 By Paul Yip

There is much discussion on social media on the excessive number of suicides in Hong Kong in the last three months. Some have made the allegation that some of the suicides are not really “suicides”. The fear and distrust have been spreading like wildfire, which is definitely very damaging.

Before we take in any information, we need to be careful on the reliability of the source of the information. We also need to be very responsible in posting or reposting this sort of information. Any unnatural death needs to be investigated by the Coroner’s Court, which needs to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the death was self-inflicted with an intention to die. The investigation is based on the police reports, medical records and other relevant information to form the basis of the ascertainment process. The investigation process usually takes six months, but sometimes even longer, depending on the complexity of the case. Also, if some cases are of public concern, the coroners would hold an inquest with the aim of raising public awareness for future prevention. For those deaths for which a cause can’t be ascertained, they will be classified as “undetermined cause of death”. The ascertainment process seems to have improved, as the proportion of undetermined causes of death  compared to the number of suicides has been reduced from nearly 20 percent in the 1990s to less than 3 percent.

Care and trust are the two most important elements to rebuild our community ... Trust is another most fundamental building block of any civic society. The spread of mistrust in the community based on some highly selective reporting (with good or bad intentions) should be reprimanded

On average, there are about 900 people killing themselves each year with a rate of about 11.8 per 100,000. There are 70 to 80 people killing themselves each month. The summer months (June through August) are the most frequent months for each year. So far, all the suicide statistics provided in social media are highly selective and certainly neither exhaustive nor complete. Very few older-adult suicides are reported, and they have accounted for nearly 30 percent of suicidal deaths each year. In our latest research on media reporting, only 37 percent of suicides are being reported, and the reporting pattern is age-dependent. For younger people, the reporting rate is nearly 70 percent, but only 10 percent for someone aged 65 or older. It is a kind of ageism, biased against older adults with the assumption of little news value. There are some suggestions that some of the suicides have no suicide notes left behind. However, only about 30 percent of suicides have a suicide note.

Hence, the claim of an excessive number of suicides is far from conclusive. I hope the investigation of the Coroner’s Court will be able to help rectify the myths and misinformation. For the time being, we all need to be careful to not spread this sort of news to create fear and induce hatred in the community.

Care and trust are the two most important elements to rebuild our community. Care is a mutual feeling, and its realization are actions toward each other. We should apologize to each other for wrongdoings and show care and support for each other.

Trust is another most fundamental building block of any civic society. The spread of mistrust in the community based on some highly selective reporting (with good or bad intentions) should be reprimanded.

In my recent visit to Northern Ireland, there was a reflection space in the City Hall in Belfast, which was racked by political turmoil, street violence, government crises, campaigns and counter-campaigns of bombing and shootings in the last three decades of the 20th century. Over 3,500 people, including civilians, police, soldiers and paramilitary members, lost their lives. There were atrocities, involuntary movements of populations, widespread intimidation, and considerable destruction of property. Shock, anguish, bitterness, lifelong injuries and mental trauma were among the effects on those who suffered as a result. Working-class neighborhoods were ravaged, mistrust deepened, and the harmonious coexistence of unionists and nationalists was made more difficult. Yet the uncertain flames of peace-making, hope, reconciliation, and forgiveness were not extinguished. There was courage, resilience, compassion and community revulsion against violence. Civil life survived. After several dashed hopes, there was a ceasefire in 1994. And in 1998, the Belfast Agreement, or Good Friday Agreement, among the major parties to the conflict signaled the start of restructured politics, social renewal and, for some survivors, personal healing. Belfast, after 30 years of darkness, turned its face toward light again. As there is a saying, “I don’t care if you are Protestant, Catholic — I don’t care who you are or what you care — your grief is still the same.” Indeed, the political situation in Northern Ireland is different from Hong Kong’s, but the chaotic scenes look similar.

Hong Kong is under siege, and we need to do our best to nurture our young generation. Certainly, we denounce violence, and hatred has no place in our society. The majority of Hong Kong people should make sound judgments on what is good and bad for Hong Kong’s future development. As we are all in the same boat, there is no point in sinking the ship even if we don’t necessarily agree with the captain.

The author is the director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, the University of Hong Kong.

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